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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

For Your Information

Please watch this area for important information like updates, food recalls, polls, contests, coupons, and freebies.
  • [January 15, 2016] - It's National Soup Month so this month's posts will focus on soups. Yum!
  • [February 1, 2016] - An interesting report on why you should always choose organic tea verses non-organic: Toxic Tea (pdf format)
  • Sticky Post - Warning: 4ever Recap reusable canning lids. The reports are growing daily of these lids losing their seal during storage. Some have lost their entire season's worth of canning to these seal failures!

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Lou Malnati's Pizzeria, Naperville, Illinois

We have been in the Chicago area several times but have never had Chicago style deep dish pizza. This pizza is quite a bit different than the New York style pizza we are used to. We decided to try the Chicago style pizza on this trip so asked the valet for a recommendation. Lou Malnati's Pizzeria in Naperville, Illinois came highly recommended as being one of the best there is. So were were off to Naperville on a side trip.

Lou Malnati's Pizzeria Naperville, IllinoisLou Malnati's Pizzeria

Naperville is a small, river port community located about 30 miles southwest from downtown Chicago. It was about a half hour drive from Joliet, Illinois where we stayed the first night. Lou Malnati's Pizzeria is located in the old Naperville fire hall. During the warmer weather the two original garage doors open onto outdoor patios with the main restaurant located on the main floor of the old fire hall. The atmosphere is quite pleasant with the staff being some of the friendliest you will ever meet. Our waiter Gino went over and above to ensure our visit was enjoyable!

Gino serves the pizzaGino Serves the Pizza

We ordered the The Lou medium deep dish pan pizza with spinach, tomatoes and mushrooms for $17.25. With drinks and taxes our total bill came to $24.75 which wasn't bad without gratituity.

The pizza came in a 12 - inch deep sided pan from which our very friendly waiter, Gino served a slice each as we were ready for more. Now that is service! He really did make our dining experience very pleasant. I will say kudos to Gino for being an extemely good waiter who cares about those he is waiting on. Lou Malnati's is indeed lucky to have a waiter like this! He even took a picture of us with our camera so I have a nice memento of our visit that will surely make a wonderful scrapbooking layout.

a slice of the Chicago style PizzaA Slice

The crust definitely was different from New York style pizza. It was crispy on the bottom as well as the sides with the top of the pizza crust curling over just slightly. The pizza was loaded with some of the best tasting mozzarella cheese I've ever tasted! A knife and fork was a must as there was no way the pizza slices could have been without them.

Now the following is not meant to be refective of Lou Malnati's or Gino's great service because trust me this place is worth going to if you like Chicago style pizza. We had heard a lot about this style of pizza so were expecting something a bit more but can't put our finger on it although my husband came closest in the problem was the crust. It gets a full two thumbs up as far as flavour goes! While the flavour was top notch it was the texture of the crust that can be best describes as somewhat thin, cake like but extra crusty, curling over the top a bit. It definitely is a different type of crust than thin or regular crust New York style pizza. Good but differents!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Union Station Buffet, Harrah's Casino, Joliet, Illinois

Casinos are one of the best places to find a good value for food dollars if you know what you are looking for. They are also one of the best places to find some fairly high end, gourmet style dining to well beyond. The nice thing about eating at casinos is you can get from the low end to the high end to everything end eating without ever gambling so it becomes a matter of what you are willing to spend and the dining experience you want. In general most larger casinos have an excellent quality when it comes to buffets making them a frugal choice for eating out.

Union Street StationUnion Street Station

During our travels we stopped at Harah's Joliet Hotel & Casino. Harrah's Joliet Hotel & Casino is located at 151 North Joliet Street, Joliet, IL. There is both self and valet parking. The hotel sports lovely, spacious rooms with excellent room service. What will really stand out immediately about this resort is the friendly atmosphere! I would have to rate this resort as one of the friendliest you will ever visit. I will note that this is a smoke-free resort something my husband and I really appreciate.

Union Station Buffet is located on the same level as the gaming floor but outside of the gaming floor. You can visit Union Station without going through the gaming floor as well. Union Station is well laid out with a nice choice of foods including salad bar and deserts. The price was $24.95 each so well within the average for an all you can eat buffet price.

clams and crawfishClams & Crawfish

When it comes to buffets I try to get pictures of foods I have not presented before on this blog. That doesn't always happen but I do try. There was a gorgeous looking clam and crawfish dish on the buffet. The colours were so bright and bckoning that I just had to try it!

The clams and crawfish were cooked to perfection with just a lovely hint of the south for seasonings. I took a huge scoop with a side of marinated mushrooms and rice. I definitely would like to try duplicating the clams and crawfish dish at home. We can get clams in the local grocery stores but I have seldom seen crawfish however if one knows where to look crawfish can be had for free. During one camping trip one of our kids practically filled a cooler with crawfish something the local racoons greatly appreciated which is a great story that perhaps I will share another time. At any rate I'm doing a bit of scouting for a nice supply of local crawfish to recreate this tasty dish.
baked cherries jubileeCherries Jubilee

Most casino buffets have an amazing array of desserts! I'm not a huge dessert fan myself preferring to end my meal with a little fresh fruit however my husband has not problem pointing out all the good dessert finds. I actually spotted this dessert, cherries jubilee. The tantilizingly sweet tangy aroma mingled with the eyes' delight. I just had to try a small scoop. It did not fail to delight! The cherries jubilee was warm, sweet, tangy and aromatic with a nice bit of light crust that my husband said went nicely with a bit of vanilla ice cream although I had mine without the ice cream. It was still quite good!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Arlene's Truck Stop, Battle Creek, Michigan (with recipes)

I've mentioned before that when we are on road trips we often stop at truck stops for meals. The reason being truck stops tend to have good coffee and excellent home style cooking. Now you can't stop at just any truck stop. The quality of the coffee and food is directly related to how busy the parking lot is. The busier the parking lot the better the truck stop! My husband is very good at finding the excellent truck stops. We've yet to eat at one that hasn't had good food thanks to his well tuned sixth sense.

Arlene's Truck StopArlene's Truck Stop

Arlene's Truck Stop is located at 4647 Columbia Ave. in Battle Creek, Michigan just off of I-94 on exit 92 to the right about a quarter of a mile up the road. The truck stop is quite busy but not fancy. There is a rather small tuck shop with the basics, mainly snack type foods. Fuel is available and there is ample parking for larger rigs. The restaurant is small and quite non-descript but the food is excellent. The home style food portions are large but low priced. A bottomless cup of coffee was $1.50 each. The service was fast and friendly, well above average. You definitely will not be leaving this truck stop hungry!

country fried steak with poached eggsCountry Fried Steak

My husband ordered the country fried steak ($7.59) with American fries, 2 poached eggs and white toast. Country fried steak is easily made at home. It is simply a thin cut of tenderized cube steak or round steak coated in fried chicken coating (eg. Homemade Shake & Bake Coating Mix) or seasoned flour then pan fried. It is usually topped with country gravy. Country (white) gravy is extremely easy to make and quite versatile. It is basically a thicker, seasoned white sauce. You can kick it up a notch by turning white gravy into sausage or bacon gravy. Here's how I make sausage gravy. You can substitute a good quality bacon cut across the slices to form bacon pieces for the sausage.

Sausage Gravy

4 breakfast sausage links or small pattie slices
2 c whole milk
2 tbsp unbleached flour
salt and pepper to taste

Fry the sausage links until cooked through, breaking them up as they fry. When the sausage is nicely browned and resembles the texture of crumbled ground beef remove from the heat. Drain the sausage reserving 2 tbsp of fat. Mix about ¼ c of the milk into the flour in a separate bowl to form a smooth slurry. Return the frypan to a medium heat. Pour in the rest of the milk. Heat while stirring constantly until milk comes to the scald stage (just starting to boil). While stirring pour the flour slurry into the milk and continue stirring and cooking until the mixture thickens to desired consistency. Remove from heat. Stir in the crumbled sausage. Season as desired with salt and pepper if desired.

eggs sunny side upEggs Sunny Side Up

I ordered the ultimate breakfast ($5.79) with ham, 2 eggs sunny side up, hash browns and whole wheat toast. I think every restaurant serves some type of potatoes with their egg breakfast however what is a bit confusing is the terminology used to describe the potatoes. The term American fries was used to describe those included in my husband's meal. However, these are often called home fries or even country cuts. I had hash browns with mine but quite often if you order hash browns you end up with something almost like a semi-mashed home fries or actual home fries or something that looks like strands of French fries cut across to form little cubes of potatoes. These hash browns were the shredded variety and they are quite easy to duplicate at home. Do not be tempted to stir these hash browns while cooking as they will get gluey. Here's my method.

Hash Browns (shredded)

1 - 2 large baking potatoes (eg. Yukon Gold, Russet)

Shred the potatoes. Rinse to remove extra starch. Place the shredded potatoes in a tea towel and press out as much moisture as possible. Pour enough cooking oil to cover the bottom of your frypan. Heat a frypan on medium high. Pour the shredded potatoes into the pan in a shallow layer, about ½- inch thick. Let them cook without disruption for 3 minutes or until just golden brown. Carefully flip and repeat. Remove from pan and serve seasoning with salt and pepper if desired.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Kitchen Quick Tips - Freezer Organization

kitchen quick tips
Use colour coded plastic baskets to help organize your freezer. For example all pre-cooked foods can go in green baskets while all uncooked beef goes in blue baskets or whatever colour code you can relate to. Colour coding gives to an immediate visual when looking for something in your freezer.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Great Depression Cooking - Eggplant Parmesan

It has been awhile since I've done one of these types of posts. Depression era style cooking is coming very much into vogue because this style of cooking uses simple ingredients cooked simply. Depression cooking was built on need not trends or convenience foods. Issues like brand names are out the window. If you watch the video preceding this one, the dandelion salad is from dandelion harvested in Clara's backyard. Put in perspective she is eating something for free that many health conscious people pay for in the grocery stores as part of the gourmet spring salad mixes and others pay even more to rid their yards of creating health problems due to herbicide residues. Home gardeners know that eggplant is one of the frugal plants in their garden. Take a look at this easy eggplant parmesan meal done depression style.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Making Your Own Mixes and Recipe Clones

Over the past couple of months I have posted how to make various mixes including homemade stove top stuffing, rice-a-roni clone, shake & bake clone, and poultry seasoning.  I will be sharing several more make your own mix and recipe clones over the upcoming months.  In general homemade mixes:

  • give you a convenient, ready to use product for your pantry shelves
  • will cost a fraction of the cost of store bought mixes
It is important to realize that your homemade mixes will likely differ in flavour from store bought simply because you are using different ingredients.  An important consideration in flavour is high fructose corn syrup is often added sauces, soups and those types of things so if you don't add corn syrup your recipe clones won't taste exactly the same as store bought.  Many dried mixes contain sugar something I found rather surprising.  If you eliminate the sugar when making a homemade mix it will differ in flavour as well.  For the most part, homemade mixes will taste superior to store bought but it is important to understand that they won't taste exactly the same.  When it comes to seasoning blends (taco seasoning, chili seasoning, poultry seasoning) there can be a wide variation from one manufacturer to another so if you like a particular manufacturer for a certain seasoning blend then adjust your homemade version to taste more like it.  Again like any recipe the recipe for a homemade mix or recipe clone is the starting point.  Tweak as desired.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Mise en Place

Frugal Kitchens 101

If you were lucky enough to have take Home Economics aka Home Ec in high school or have watched any cooking shows you will be familiar with getting all of your ingredients and equipment ready prior to cooking. The culinary term for this is mise en place, a French phrase defined by the Culinary Institute of America as "everything in place, as in set up and ready to use. Today's Frugal Kitchens 101 will explore the concept of mise en place, why you should use it, how it can save you money and what you will need.

Why should you use mise en place?

  • It streamlines (convenience) the cooking process saving you time. You don't have to stop mid-stream when cooking to go looking for an ingredient. This makes cooking considerably more enjoyable.
  • It is an effective check list so you know you have everything necessary to complete that dish.
  • It reduces the risk for accidents (eg. burning food while searching for and ingredient), personal injury and property damage (eg. flash fire).
  • It reduces contamination between foods. If you are in a hurry during food prep it is quite common to not wipe or use separate measuring spoons. This introduces contamination into the main container that can cause off flavours and even spoilage.
  • It reduces the chance of over seasoning or adding a spoiled ingredient. If you only have 1 tsp of an ingredient in your mise en place bowl, you can only add that amount rather than an accidental extra.
How can mise en place save you money?
  • Any cross contamination between foods can cause spoilage. Spoilage ultimately costs you because you end up tossing the dish or the contaminated ingredient then you have to purchase again.
  • It serves as a safety check to prevent forgotten ingredients that can result in the failure of the dish leading to wastage.
  • Eggs in particular should always be cracked into a bowl before adding to avoid adding a spoiled egg into the dish. If the egg is spoiled all the rest of the ingredients need to be tossed out and you have to start over wasting both time and money.
  • If you gather all your ingredients first before even starting you mise en place you will eliminate that moment of horror when you realize you are out of one critical ingredient. It eliminates that drop everything and run to the grocery store moment that ultimately costs you both time and money.
What do you need for mise en place?
  • several small 3 or 4 ounce glass bowls for small dry measurements
  • 2 ounce silicone pinch bowls for smaller dry and wet measurements
  • dry/wet measuring cups
  • measuring spoons
  • 1 to 2 stainless steel measuring bowls

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Homemade Vanilla Syrup

My gosh have you ever had one of those total duh moments when you could easily made a homemade substitute for a store bought item at the fraction of the cost. I posted awhile ago that one of my new favourite drinks was London Fog that is supposed to use vanilla syrup but I was just using a little pure vanilla extract. After doing a bit of research I realized there were a multitude of beverage syrups available for flavouring teas and specialty coffees. Most were priced in the $10 price range but since you use so little that didn't look like a bad price until my frugal bone reminded me that flavoured syrups are quite easily made at home at a fraction of the cost of store bought.

vanilla syrup ingredientsVanilla Syrup Ingredients

I decided to make vanilla syrup for my London Fog drink. The general ingredients for any syrup are sugar, water and flavour. I had two 100% pure vanilla extracts to work with, one a clear and the other dark vanilla extract my husband brought back from the Dominican. I reserve the clear for those dishes where I don't want an off colour imparted to the dish. I decided to use the dark extract for this syrup.

I keep most bottles and jars especially the cute ones to reuse just for this type of purpose. A funnel is really helpful for filling the bottle. Other than that no special equipment is necessary.

homemade vanilla syrupHomemade Vanilla Syrup

Making an unflavoured syrup is as easy as mixing equal amounts of granulated cane sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring that to a low boil then reduce heat and simmer 5 to 7 minutes until it slightly thickens. Remove from the heat and let cool until the outside of the saucepan. Using a funnel pour the syrup into a bottle of your choice. Add ¾ tsp pure vanilla extract. Cap the bottle then gently shake. Allow the syrup to cool completely then refrigerate. Use as desired for flavouring beverages. The dark pure vanilla extra gave a light amber hue to the syrup but that is fine for the purposes it will be used.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Maple Candied Bacon

Bacon is just pure comfort food! There's very few things that don't taste better with bacon. Ok maybe I'm exaggerating a little but if you are a bacon lover you will know where I'm coming from. I often use bacon when making appetizers. I love coming across another way I can use bacon as an appetizer. Who can resist the sound of maple candied bacon?

preparing the maple candied baconPreparations

Method: place 8 - 10 pieces of extra thick cut old fashioned bacon on a grate over a baking pan (1). Mix ¼ cup packed brown sugar, 2 tbsp pure Canadian maple syrup and 2 tbsp white wine vinegar in a small bowl. Brush half the mixture onto the bacon slices. Sprinkle lightly with fresh cracked pepper. Turn slices over and brush with the rest of the mixture. Sprinkle lightly with fresh cracked pepper. Bake at 180ºC/350ºF until crispy. Remove from oven and let cool completely.

 maple candied baconMaple Candied Bacon

This easy to make appetizer is sure to please. The bake time is a bit longer than expected but well worth it. The maple candied bacon will be gobbled up in no time flat reminding me of when I make beef jerky. Regardless of how much beef jerky I make it vanishes practically overnight! The maple candied bacon has a light, crunchy texture perfect for snacking. It has a lovely sweetness yet it is not overly sweet. Stand in a glass like meat sticks for serving.

It is important to use the extra thick cut bacon for this appetizer. A normal, thinner cut bacon will be too thin to give suitable results. An additional use for the maple candied bacon would be to crumble it for use as a kicked-up salad topping.

the aftermath of cooking maple candied baconThe Aftermath

An unexpected aftermath was the pan the drippings fell into while the bacon was baking. That is hard burnt on sugar pictured in the bottom of the pan (3). It was too hard to scrape off! I poured about a half cup of baking soda into the pan then poured boiling water over the bottom (4) and let it sit about 20 minutes. This is a trick that seldom fails. After soaking I dumped out the liquid and was left with the semi-clean pan (5) to finish washing. In the end the only thing left to clean up was the tasty candied bacon :)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Rice-a-Roni Clone Mix

Food manufactures have so convinced us that home cooking is not possible without a ready-made mix that many of us actually believe that myth. They aren't telling us this because they care about us, they tell us this because they are trying to sell their product. However what they don't tell you is you can make your own homemade convenience mixes for a fraction of the cost, with very little effort that will save you a bit of time on those days you don't want to take the time to measure out ingredients. Once again I looked at another popular convenience product on the grocery shelf and decided to make a homemade version. It has been years since I have purchased Rice-a-Roni® so armed with my digital camera I took pictures of the box and ingredients during one of the few times I am in a grocery store. Then I did an online search for clone recipes and came up with my own version.

rice-a-roni clone ingredientsIngredients

The main ingredients in Rice-a-Roni® are vermicilli, rice, bouillon and parsley so that's what I started with. When I start creating a recipe I start with the end in mind. I wanted a quick, convenient product for my pantry shelves that would pair nicely with my chicken or turkey stock yet mimic the store bought version. I used Arborio rice which is a short grain rice with a bit more starch that will give my homemade version a creamy texture. A regular long grain white rice would work as well. The other ingredients were dried parsley and Aurora instant bouillon mix in chicken flavour. I don't use bouillon on a regular basis because of the high salt content so in my clone version of Rice-a-Roni® I used half the amount of other clone recipes.

Originally I was going to make the mix in 500 ml jars as pictured but decided to use 250 ml jars instead. Additional ingredients used for 2 of the jars were paprica, chili powder, dried sweet peppers, dried minced onion, sugar and garlic/onion seasoning. This type of mix can easily be adjusted to any flavour you want while keeping the rice to pasta ratio at 2 parts rice, 1 part pasta.

Rice-a-Roni Clone Mix

I made the Rica-a-Roni clone mix directly in the jars. The first two jars are plain chicken flavoured. The middle jar is chicken flavoured with onion flakes added. The third jar has additional seasonings to make a Spanish rice mix. A funnel is useful for adding ingredients. The end result was 4 - 250 ml jars of Rice-a-Roni clone mix coming in at a cost per jar of 12¢. Each jar will serve 4. It took me less than 10 minutes to put the jars together so this is an easy to make, low cost clone recipe that anyone can make.

Method: Pour ½ cup rice and ¼ cup vermicilli into each jar. Add ½ tsp dried parsley flakes and 1 tbsp bouillon to each jar. If you will be using water rather than stock to cook your mix then increase the bouillon to 2 tbsp. If you are leaving your mix plain, place lids on the jars, vacuum seal then store in your pantry.

Optional additions:

  • Add 1 tsp dried onion flakes.
  • Add ¼ tsp paprica, ½ tsp chili powder, 1 tsp dried sweet peppers, 1 tsp dried onions, 1 tsp granulated sugar, 1 tsp garlic/onion spice blend, 1 tsp tomato powder
To use:
  • Melt 2 tbsp butter in fry pan. Pour in the contents of 1 jar. Mix well. Let brown slightly. Stir in 2¼ c stock (or water). Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer 15 minutes.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Kitchen Quick Tips - Melting Chocolate

kitchen quick tips
When melting chocolate make sure all utensils are completely dry as any amount of water will make the chocolate grainy and lumpy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Chicken in the Rough

Some of the best restaurants we have found has been through word of mouth. Here's the thing. If the food and service is excellent the recommendation to check out that restaurant will get around rather quickly. On the other hand if the food and service is lousy at a restaurant you will definitely hear about it. Now what is interesting if the food and service is just average you won't hear anything about it which really saves you the trouble of checking out that restaurant in the first place. We have discovered some of the best restaurants, bar & grills and eateries through word of mouth.

Palms Krystal Bar & GrillPalm Krystal Bar & Grill

Palm Krystal Bar & Grill is located at 1535 Pine Grove Avenue, Port Huron, Michigan. We discovered this bar and grill close to 20 years ago through word of mouth. The building is rather non-descript even though it is an older building so it is one of those restaurants you might easily drive by without out realizing the jewel inside. It is a must stop at place when you are in Port Huron, Michigan! This small bar & grill is home to chicken in the rough which is seriously some of the very best tasting fried chicken you will ever taste! Their service is friendly as well. I will warn you to not exptect fast food although the wait time for food is definitely not a problem. The service is some of the best you will experience!

chicken in the roughChicken in the Rough

A four piece (half chicken) dinner will cost you $9.99. It comes with your potato of choice and a dinner roll. Salad is on the side as are drinks but the price is more than reasonable. The chicken is seriously the star of the show! It is lightly seasoned deep fried chicken. at it's finest crispy on the outside yet moist and tender on the inside reminding me very much of the deep fried chicken I make at home. Yet there is just that little something that is missing from homemade. The skin is golden brown and crispy with a moist, tender meat. It really is a lovely meal, well presented with excellent service, definitely worth stopping to enjoy!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Homemade Stovetop Stuffing

I am very much a scratch cooking most of the time. One thing that has always been a concern is coming across a recipe I want to try that calls for a convenience packaged food that in most cases I would never purchase. The bottom line is two fold. First I don't like using convenience packaged food that tends to be heavily laden in excess salt, sugar, artificial flavour and colour as well as preservatives. Second, I want to make a recipe with foods I have on hand rather than make a mad dash to the grocery store. One ingredient that I've come across in some recipes is StoveTop® stuffing.

bread prep for stovetop stuffingBread Prep

I decided to make a clone recipe of StoveTop® stuffing. After all it could not be that difficult since the ingredients are quite simple. I honestly don't know how much a box StoveTop® stuffing is going for so I'm going to guess $1.50 per box. Here I made pretty much the same amount as 3 boxes for about $1 or 33¢ each but that was because I was working with store bought rolls rather than homemade bread. Had I used homemade bread the cost would be more in the range of 10¢ per jar of stuffing.

Method: I cut the dinner rolls into cubes then baked at 180ºC/350ºF until golden brown. Then I let the cubes cool.

ingredients for stovetop stuffingIngredients

Aside of the left over dinner rolls I used sea salt, fresh cracked pepper, dried onion flakes and homemade poultry seasoning. This combination is directly related to the way I make stuffing in poultry. Additional ingredients are dried parsley and instant bouillon mix. I used a tsp of parsley per jar but no instant bouillon to keep the sodium level low and since I want to use homemade stock when making the stuffing I didn't want an actual meat flavour being added. This will allow me to make any flavour of stuffing I want. This is also a great way to use up homemade bread that is just on the stale side.

homemade stovetop stuffingHomemade Stovetop Stuffing

This will be a nice homemade pantry product! Now I can make a couple of those recipes I want to try using the convenience of my homemade version! It should substitute nicely. The homemade stovetop stuffing is quite easy to make. After the toasted bread is cooled I filled 3 - 1 L canning jars with the bread. I added a sprinkling of sea salt, couple of twists of fresh ground pepper, 1 tsp dried parsley, 1 tbsp poultry seasoning and 1 tbsp dried minced onions. Then I vacuum sealed the jars and wrote the instructions on the lid. When I want to use a jar I will add 1 tbsp butter and 1½ cup stock of choice.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Frugal Recipes

Frugal Kitchens 101
We live in such a wonderful time where there is easy access to an abundance of recipes. One of the biggest things you will notices about newer recipes and online recipes is they tend to stipulate a certain brand for some of the ingredients. Many companies also have a recipe component to their website using of course their brand. In addition to this a lot of newer recipes include ingredients that in some cases can be rather difficult to find unless you shop online. The downside to using all brand name ingredients and exotic or hard to find ingredients is of course cost. The reality is that when it comes to most foods especially those used as ingredients in other dishes is brand doesn't matter at all. Del Monte green beans is the same as store brand green beens is the same as home canned green beans. The only difference you will see is size with a can of store bought green beans being 14.5 oz whereas home canned is 16 oz (500 ml). In most cases this little extra using home canned makes no difference at all. So when it comes to newer recipes that specify brand names don't be afraid to substitute with a store brand or home canned but it you really want to save money look to the older recipes.

There has been a growing interest in Depression era recipes and for good reason. These recipes came about when ingredients like flour, sugar and butter were rationed, when times were tough and homemakers quickly learned how to stretch what they had. The very idea of even getting a piece of fresh fruit out of season during the Depression in Canada or even in the winter pre-Depression was unheard of yet savvy Canadian homemakers had a good supply of fruits and vegetables put up in their cellars. It was a time of anything that could be put up was and meals were always cooked from scratch using the ingredients that were on hand. There were no fancy seasonings, mixes or other ingredients. The overall frugality and simplicity of ingredients is reflected in cookbooks written pre-1965. The earlier you go the more you will find excellent home economic tips that despite their age are still applicable today. At the same time there are many older books specific to home economics. One I thoroughly enjoyed is The Work-a-Day Girl by Clara E. Laughlin (published 1913). These types of books re an excellent way to see how you really can do with a lot less.

My earliest cookbook dates back to 1852 and belonged to my 4th great grandmother. I collect old cookbooks not only because of my culinary interests but also through my genealogy research. They are very much cherished! If you are interested in finding these older cookbooks check yard sales, estate sales, resale stores and antique stores. Take a trip to your local library and check those smaller libraries in surrounding communities as they may have a holding your local library doesn't. Another source for older recipes is newspapers normally archived in micro-fiche or microfilm. Newspapers often ran recipes in the Women's Section of the newspaper.

When it comes time to use your find, if the cookbook is pre-1900 and even some later than that you will want to protect it. I recommend taking a digital image of the recipe which surprisingly works quite nicely with a little bit of practice and doesn't damage the book. It is a lot quicker than writing out the recipe and unlike photocopying doesn't cost money or damage the spine of the book. Some microfilm machines have printing capabilities usually at 25¢ to $1 per sheet where as most micro-fiche machines have no printing capabilities. With a bit of practice you can also take digital images from either source. As with any digital imaging always take several shots and again with practice you will be able to get good shots. Edit your images of the recipe then print the image if desired. In some cases if the spine of the book is good you can use an ORC scan as well. This way you can gather quite a nice collection of older recipes complete with their wisdom without spending a lot of money.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Come Make a Pot of Soup With Me

My last Frugal Kitchens 101 of 2009 focused on making homemade soups, stews, chowders and gumbos. Given the nature and writing style I use for my Frugal Kitchens 101 posts there were no pictures as to any methods. The reason for this is these posts are meant to be informative without any visuals. However sometimes visuals are needed for certain methods so I decided to ask you to come make a pot of soup with me. That way you can see how I do thing and where you can make changes so you too can make yummy, budget stretching soups at home that are sure to please.

removing meat from stock and bonesMeat

I started with 2 beef soup bones, 1 parsnip, 1 large carrot, one rib of celery, ¼ Spanish onion with skin, bay leaf and enough water to fill the pressure cooker ⅔ full. [I'm sorry I forgot to take pictures of this.] I put the lid on the pressure cooker and bring to pressure then let cook at pressure for 25 - 30 minutes and let the pressure cooker depressurize. I remove the soup bones with tongs and pull the meat from the bone (1). The meat will basically shred without having to cut at this point. The stock with the vegetables remains (2).

While I'm on the subject of stocks you always use the mire poix (onion, celery, carrot). Do not peel the carrot or onion, simply wash and use as is for colour, flavour and extra nutrients. A parsnip adds a wonderful depth to the stock but it is a deep, mellow almost sweet note but not a distinct flavour that says this is parsnip. Pressure cooking is the ultimate way to make stock because it greatly reduces the cooking time.

straining and defatting stockStock

I pour the stock with cooked vegetables through a fine mesh strainer (3). The resulting stock (4) shows signs of fat on top. While this does not have to be removed I prefer to chill the stock in the refrigerator for defatting. When the stock is well chilled the fat turns and opague white (5). It is a solid so is easily removed from the stock. This will seem like a lot of effort to some but if you consider it takes about 5 minutes prep time, 30 minutes cook time, 10 minutes depressurizing and perhaps an hour or so in the fridge for defatting it really doesn't take that much time from raw to a rich, flavourful, defatted stock (6) and meat for the soup (3).

ingredients to make the soupIngredients

Oh my now this is where I start having a lot of fun. Pictured are most of the ingredients I used (7). Soup needs seasoning and since I was making a beef soup I used Montréal Steak Seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, Grace's browning. Next I had to decide on the starch and/or protein. I could have used potatoes, pasta, beans, legumes or grains. I used pearl barley which just goes so niecely with beef. Just about any vegetable is fair game when I make soups. I added celery, green onions, Spanish onion, carrot, tomato, sweet peas, corn and mushrooms to this soup.

I add the ingredients in the order that they cook with longest cooking added first. I added the Spanish onion, seasonings and barley first (8) then cooked until the barley was tender. I also added 2 - 500 ml jars of de-fatted beef broth to the ingredients because it looked like I would need it. Barley tends to thicken and cloud the liquid when it cooks (9) which really isn't a problem. If you want clearer stock when using barley then you have to cook the barley separately and stir it in when the soup is finished cooking. Once the barley was cooked I stirred in the remaining vegetables starting with the mushrooms and ending with the tomatoes and green onions added in the last 5 minutes of cooking (10)

Beef, Mushroom & Barley Soup

The best part of making a homemade soup from scratch is the ultimate reward - rich, flavourful, nutritious soup. The tantalizing aroma fills the house as layers of flavour are added during the cooking process. There really is nothing more comforting than a bowl of steaming homemade soup on a cold winter evening!

This particular soup was loaded with vegetables that provide not only nutrition but eye appeal. It really ended up being a rustic, hearty soup! Nice bright, cheery colours are so pleasant when the day has been dull, grey and snowy.

See how easy it is to make a soup from scratch? Once you have chosen what meat to use the seasonings and other ingredients fall into place. The reward is a wonderful homemade soup sure to please anyone. Aren't you glad you stopped long enough to make a pot of soup with me?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf

Meatloaf has long been a staple meat dish in many homes. It really falls under the category of comfort meals. Not only is is comfort food it is a nice budget stretcher. I think every Mom makes a version of it. Meatloaf is one of those dishes that like my soups and stews is made on the fly tossing in ingredients that strike my fancy at the time. While onions are always added I quite often add zucchini, cabbage or carrots and sometimes I dress it up with shredded cheese or bacon or even stuff it.

bacon wrapped meatloaf prepared for ovenReady for Oven

The basics for making meatloaf are quite simple. I start with lean ground meat, in this case beef. Now here is where it starts to get interesting for me because most meatloaf recipes add mustard and ketchup. Just in those two ingredients along there are so many varieties a simple substitution can make for a very personalized meatloaf. I used ketchup, yellow prepared mustard, Worcestershire sauce and Heinz 57® steak sauce along with 3 eggs as a binder. The next ingredient any meat loaf has is some type of filler such as dry bread crumbs, oatmeal or crushed crackers. Just look at the options here for changing the taste! This is also the perfect opportunity to add a bit of fiber to your meatloaf so you can sprinkle in a little wheat germ or even stir in mashed cooked beans although I did neither for this particular meatloaf. I used homemade bread crumbs from a loaf of homemade whole wheat bread. After forming the loaf I tucked on 4 slices of a thick cut, smoked bacon.

baked bacon wrapped meatloafBaked

I baked the meatloaf uncovered at 180ºC/350ºF until golden brown with an internal temperature of 71ºC/160ºF. Since I had used very lean ground beef and the gourmet bacon there was very little grease in the baking dish, less that 2 tbsp. Once the meatloaf was out of the oven I immediately placed it onto a wire rack over a plate to allow any additions grease to drain. There were a few drips but no more than a half teaspoon. The end result was a lovely yet flavourful and moist low fat meatloaf.

It really is surprising how much flavour bacon can add to many dishes including meatloaf. I've often used bacon is chowders, baked beans and anything venison based. It really is important to use premium quality, thick sliced bacon for maximum flavour. This is cost effective as well since you can get away with using a lot less. Avoid using thin cut, bargain bacon that lack flavour and contain a higher fat content.

bacon wrapped meatloaf Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf

I served the bacon wrapped meatloaf with baked potatoes and sweet peas. Yes I know we eat a lot of baked potatoes but popping a couple of potatoes to bake along with the meat is not only a frugal use of electricity but is also eco-friendly. Actually this time I baked 4 potatoes with the meat so I would have 2 for country cuts the next day. Baked potatoes when not heavily laden with toppings are also quite good for you providing a good for you, low in calories and high in fiber. If you've been following this blog you will know there are very few times I peel potatoes because it does reduce both nutrition and fiber.

Another thing you will have noticed if you've been following this blog is I grow as many vegetables as possible and buy local produce to supplement what I don't grow. I do grow sweet peas but only enough for fresh eating due to space limitations. I have not been able to find a good source for local sweet peas either. As a result sweet peas are one of the very few commercially frozen vegetables I do buy.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Cheese, Meat & Vegetable Twist

I don't buy or subscribe to very many foodie type magazines. A few years ago I signed up to receive What's Cooking, a free quarterly magazine put out by Kraft Foods. The magazine is wonderful presented with easy recipes using Kraft products. There are a lot of cooking and menu planning tips as well. I will admit to enjoying opening up a foodie magazine and immediately seeing something I want to try making.

steps for making easy baked cheese, meat and vegetable twistThe Steps

This recipe was originally called Easy Baked Cheese & Vegetable Twist. The presentation was quite appealing yet looked easy enough to duplicate. I took one look at the recipe then started tweaking changing the filling to include meat. I also wanted something with a bit more flavour which the original recipe didn't have. Here's my version.

Cheese, Meat & Vegetable Twist
modified from: Kraft Foods, What's Cooking. Festive 2009. Pp. 37.

2 cans refrigerated crescent dinner rolls
2 eggs
125 g (4 oz) Philadelphia Herb & Garlic cream cheese spread
2 c broccoli, rough chopped
8 mushrooms, quartered
½ roma tomato, seeded and chopped
1 green onion, sliced
1½ c ground beef, browned

Brown ground beef and drain. Prepare vegetables. Open the crescent rolls, separate and arrange on a baking sheet overlapping to form a circle (1). Mix the rest of the ingredients together then spoon around the centre of the circle (2). I found it worked best to use a large spoon then shape the ring as I went using the other hand. Pull up each triangle point towards the centre and tuck under (3). Continue in this fashion until all points are tucked under (4). Bake at 190ºC/375ºF until golden brown about 35 minutes.

Easy Baked Cheese, Meat & Vegetable TwistFresh from Oven

I was a bit surprised to see the ring did not keep its nice round shape but that's ok. Honestly I do have a crooked eye but do still know the difference between a circle and oblong. With a bit of practice I should be able to perfect this. The original recipe showed the finishd twist on a serving wood. This definitely would be a two person endeavour to get the baked ring onto any serving dish without breaking it.

What strikes me about this recipe is you really could use any filling you wanted to as long as the filling isn't runny when hot. It could be a savoury, meat filling as I used, a vegetarian filling or even a sweet, dessert filling. So it is the method and idea that is most important then tailor the filling to what you want.

Easy Baked Cheese, Meat & Vegetable Twist platedPlated

Once the twist is cut for plating it really doesn't have the circular shape although there is a slight arc to the pieces. For presentation and serving it would be very nice to present the twist whole as that is when it is most impressive visually. I plated the cut twist very simply with a small garnish. An average serving would be 3 sections depending on the filling. It was quite tasty and very filling. I'm glad I substituted the Philidelphia Herb & Garlic cream cheese spread in place of plain cream cheese as that added a nice flavour element. The real trick is going to be substituting the refrigerator dough. I think puff pastry would be a good substitute so will try that the next time.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Kitchen Quick Tips - Frothing Cappuccino

kitchen quick tips
Cold skim milk is the best choice for achieving a full froth for cappuccino. Why? The proteins in the milk have been absorbed which gives stability to the bubbles at the liquid's surface so you get a longer lasting froth.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

French Canadian Braised Beef

I love finding new but old recipes that still work well. Old recipes are wonderful in that they don't specify brands and we all know that in some cases brand A may vary in taste from brand B not that it is ever much of a concern for me as I tend to use my home canned or home frozen variants. They also tend to use less ingredients specifically less exotic ingredients. If you want frugal recipes for saving a few dollars when cooking look for the older recipes.

French Canadian Braised BeefFrench Canadian Braised Beef

This recipe really starts out a lot like a stew and believe me I'm not exactly sure what makes this recipe French Canadian either. Likely this was a dish that was popular in French Canada at the time this cookbook was published (1965). In the end the sauce was quite thick, creamy in texture and tasty even thicker than a stew. It was rich, creamy and flavourful, definitely comfort food. In my opinion this dish could be adapted rather easily to using a slow cooker (crockpot) or the pressure cooker.

I made a couple of substitutions in the French Canadian Braised Beef recipe. The recipe didn't call for any oil so I added a bit to help with the searing. I substituted Montréal Steak Seasoning for the salt and pepper and I added a splash of Worcestershire sauce to bring a sparkle to the beef. I also exchanged the new potatoes called for in the recipe with cubed potatoes as I'm quite sure my ancestors would have made this type of dish during the winter when new potatoes were not available. In fairness the recipe does call for condensed cream of mushroom soup so I think my ancestors would have used heavy cream and perhaps mushrooms if they had them. I used the condensed cream of mushroom soup. I also changed the cooking method to add the fresh green beans in a few minutes before serving to keep the beans nice and bright.

French Canadian Braised Beef
modified from: French Canadian Braised Beef, Kate Aitken's Canadian Cook Book, 1965. Pp. 192.

2 lb stewing beef
¼ c corn starch
1 tsp Montréal Steak Seasoning
¼ c olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1½ c water
splash of Worcestershire sauce
1 c carrots, diced
1 c green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
6 small potatoes, bite sized pieces
10 oz can condensed cream of mushroom soup

Place the stew been, corn starch and seasoning in a covered bowl. Shake until meat is well coated. Heat oil in Dutch Oven then add onion and cook until translucent. Add the beef. Sear meat on all sides. Add water and Worcestershire sauce. Stir well. Cover tightly. Reduce heat to simmer and let simmer until meat is tender. Stir in potatoes, carrots, and mushroom soups. Continue cooking until vegetables are tender. Stir in green beans. Cook until beans are just tender.
Serves 6

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hubby's Gift Basket

I don't know when gift baskets became a popular holiday gift but somehow they did likely because they can be a last minute gift idea tailored to the recipient's tastes. I suspect they started as a nice way to present gifts from the kitchen. My husband received a lovely gift basket from one of his clients.

Don't let the word basket throw you. Quite often the actual basket is not a basket in the traditional sense. Just about any container can be used for the basket including but not restricted to decorative metal baskets, decorative boxes, serving bowls, metal bowl, wicker baskets and so much more. The general composition for a gift basket is the container, some type of filler and the goodies and/or accentsall wrapped in clear or coloured cellophane wrap allowing the lovely goodies to peak through.

hubby's holiday gift basketHubby's Gift Basket

Hubby's gift basket (pictured) was chock full of goodies from Orange Crate Food Co. (no online store) and Canadian Herb & Spice Company (online store, US only). Both are Canadian companies specializing in gourmet foods and mixes that are sold in gourmet and specialty type stores. Both companies have the little extras that can give your homemade gift baskets a little extra pizzaz. Tucked in the decorative plastic serving bowl was: 4 herb & spice dip/salad dressing mixes, 3 gourmet hot chocolate mixes, 2 cranberry cider mix, 3 herbal and 1 breakfast teas (5 bags each), gourmet popcorn, peppermints, mulling spice, cinnamon sticks and a chocolate Santa. Each of the curled ribbons on the outside had a chocolate bumble bee in the centre that I'm sure the grandbabies will love!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Electricity in the Kitchen

Frugal Kitchens 101
Early in 2009 Hyrdo One, the electricity provider for Ontario announced they would be switching to a Time of Use (TOU) pricing per kWh over the follow year. Some in Ontario are already on this pricing system and while our Smart Meter was installed in February 2009 it is not activated to TOU pricing. Currently our winter rates are 5.6¢ per kWh which is 44% of our total hydro bill. With service charges some of which are dependent on kWh used the real cost is more like 11¢ per kWh. The TOU pricing will see the cost per kWh go to 4.2¢ per kWh for off peak hours (9 pm - 7 am, weekends, holidays), 7.6¢ per kWh for mid-peak use, and 9.1¢ per kWh for high peak hours. The mid and peak hours actually reverse in the summer but the off peak hours remain the same. While the cost per kWh used is going up, the 56% of our bill that is the service charges isn't providing we don't increase the number of kWh used. Essentially how we use electricity between the hours of 7 am and 9 pm either has to change or will be more costly. This type of pricing has already been in effect in other countries and it is gaining favour so now is the time to cut back on the kWh you use. In addition to the TOU pricing the Ontario government courtesy of Dalton McGuinty (let's see him get re-elected) has introduced the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) that will see an increase in hydro bills of 8% in taxes. Without going into my views on the HST although I'm sure you can guess the bottom line is those living in Ontario are going to be seeing a substantial increase in hydro costs likely by July 1, 2010. Now is the time to a) if you are living in Ontario change your hydro use habits and b) if you are living outside of Ontario pay attention because this is the wave of the future.

For the most part little will change in my kitchen but that is because I'm already down to a low kWh usage. How can you reduce your kWh used in the kitchen? Here are a few of my tips:

  • All major appliances should be EnergyStar® qualified. Keep them well cleaned inside and out to make sure they operate up to their potential. On older models keep those refrigerator coils vacuumed. Don't overload your fridge for any reason. Try to keep some empty space (yes I hear my kids snickering at this one) for good air circulation. Unplug and get rid of that old spare fridge that can be costing a lot of kWh per month even though you only use it once or twice a year.
  • Eliminate all unnecessary electric small appliances. True that electric can opener is only used briefly not even enough to cost a penny per use. In the big picture it may only cost you 50¢ per year to use BUT it is still using hydro. If you go through and eliminate all unnecessary small electric appliances not only are you going to save money but you will have more storage space for other appliances and gadgets that will serve you better.
  • Rethink your coffee maker. If you make a pot of coffee then leave the heat setting on to keep the coffee warm for a few hours then you are wasting kWh. Change your coffee maker out for one with a thermal carafe or pour your coffee into a thermos that will keep it hot enough to enjoy for a few hours without using any kWh.
  • The oven can make or break you. If you use your oven to bake 2 baked potatoes for dinner you are wasting kWh. If you use your oven to cook a couple of roasts (one for slicing for that week's sandwiches), 6 baked potatoes (2 for dinner, 4 for baked potato soup the following day) and perhaps another side or dessert then you are using your oven effectively. You are using the same amount of kWh but getting so much more out of them. If you use your oven this way on Sunday night when the lowest price per kWh is in effect then you have a head start on the week's meals that will take a lot less energy usage to prepare.
  • The slow cooker is not going to be your friend. For years the slow cooker (crockpot) has been tooted as being a frugal appliance. With these new changes it is not going to remain frugal because it will be constantly using hydro during mid and high peak hours meaning you are going to be paying a lot more to use your slow cooker. Use your slow cooker on Sunday to create a nice meal that can be warmed in the microwave for the first couple of nights of the week.
  • The pressure cooker is your friend. A pressure cooker will allow you to get a good, nutritious meal on your table in under an hour still coming in at lower kWh usage than a slow cooker.
  • Think alternative cooking. If you have a woodstove, cook your soup or stew on that since it is already on in the winter. If you have multiple choices of cooking fuel supply (eg. electricity, natural gas, naphtha fuel, wood, propane, butane, solar) choose the method that works best for you that is the cheapest. In Ontario natural gas is still the cheapest cooking fuel although if you have a source for free wood it's even cheaper. Solar is also an option although not all that practical during the winter months in Ontario.
  • Check the deli. Ok this is not what you are used to hearing from me on this blog that focuses on cooking from scratch. I cannot buy a whole chicken for under $8 here. Sobey's sells cooked rotisserie chickens for $7 or after 5 pm for $5. That's without me having to use any hydro to cook it so for me a rotisserie chicken is a frugal alternative.
  • Canning and food preservation should be done during low peak usage. This only makes good sense to me and it is something I really don't have to change a lot. During the summer months I've always canned during the early morning hours and late evening hours. It's cooler then so was more comfortable as well. During the winter months I try to get any canning out of the way in the early morning hours just because there are a lot of other things I want to do but really if I had to run the canner at mid-peak hour prices I would. What becomes a consideration is the freezer. Recall from the moment you put food in a freezer you are paying for its storage. The freezer really needs to be EnergyStar® qualified. I keep my freezers as full as possible to help with energy efficiency yet with enough space to comfortable overturn the food and just enough space to add any bargains I might find.
  • Nix the boiling. Use steaming rather than boiling for any vegetable. Steaming gives nicer results with more nutrition and less energy usage.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Pizza Arca, New Hamburg, Ontario

A road trip always means a culinary adventure because you never know what you will discover. Many smaller communities scattered through-out Ontario have some of the best home style cooked foods you will ever taste and that is due the fact it cooked very much like you would cook at home. The food is fresh, cooked to order and usually a good value for your restaurant food dollar. The food is not fast food the service tends to be quite good, well worth the little extra time it takes to be served. Slowing down to the speed of life and enjoying a bit of face to face conversation while waiting for your food to be served is a great way to unwind from the fast paced lifestyle many of us lead.

Pizza Arca, 98 Peel Street, New Hamburg, OntarioPizza Arca

New Hamburg is a smaller community located on Hwy 7 about 25 km east of Stratford, Ontario. Stratford is home to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and the esteemed Stratford Chefs School featured on Food Network Canada's Chef's School. The area in general is one of the oldest in Ontario so features beautiful, old archecture and picturesque smaller communities where it is easy to find several restaurants featuring good, old fashion home cooked meals. Don't let that fool you though as there are also several fine dining establishments such as Rundles Restaurant (average cost per person $110) in Stratford and Puddicombe House (average cost per person $60) in New Hamburg.
Pizza Arca is located at 98 Peel Street in New Hamburg, Ontario. If you are in the New Hamburg area this is definitely the place to buy pizza! This is a small pizzeria located in a small building that was a former private bank. Much of the exterior and interior details from the original use have been retained. Pizza Arca specializes in take-out only gourmet pizzas. You can call ahead with your order so your pizzas are ready when you arrive for pick-up or you can order then browse around the quaint little town while you wait for your pizza order.

pizza arca gourmet pizzasGourmet Pizzas

On this particular road trip the kids picked up 5 large gourmet pizzas at a cost of about $65 so averaging $16.25 per pizza. Pictured are the pizzas: Hawaiian (1), Cheese (2), Pepperoni (3), Mediterranean (4). The crust was regular, nicely crisped. The tomato based sauce had a rich, nicely seasoned flavour. The Hawaiian pizza was topped with ham, pineapple and mozzarella cheese. The Cheese pizza was sauce and mozzarella cheese only. The Pepperoni pizza also had mushrooms. The Mediterranean was my favourite with black and green olives, bacon, red onion, mozzarella and Feta cheeses. [edited] Not pictured is the Arca Special. (Please see comments).

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Venison Loin Chops Cooked in Caramelized Onions

We have been under a cold snap for the last few days. While we have seen much snow accumulation yet I'm simply not in the mood to go out into the cold weather. These are days I appreciate simple, homestyle cooking from the pantry. The holidays are over and we're gearing up for the new growing season as well as our beef on the hoof purchase so pantry cooking it is! I decided to work a meal around venison loin chops.

venison loin chops cooked in caramelized onionsVenison Loin Chops

Venison can have a wild taste to it often referred to as being gamey. This flavour is dependent on how the deer was killed (spooked, chased will taste stronger), what the deer fed off of and how the kill was treated in the field. Some don't mind a strong gamey flavour and in fact that is an asset when making venison chili. However, on cuts of venison such as loin chops and roasts the gamey flavour may be a bit too strong for some. Soaking the venison in milk, buttermilk or vinegar overnight will remove the strong gamey flavour while tenderizing the meat. Tomatoes also help remove the gamey flavour. A second problem that is noticeable with venison is because it is so lean the meat must be served hot otherwise it has a poor mouth feel. The solution for this is to pair the venison with a pork product such as ground pork with ground venison or bacon/bacon fat with whole cuts of venison.

We decided to take a spin off of the way we enjoy liver and onions for this meal. Moisture is key to keeping the meat tender. We started the onions in a little bacon fat in a non-stick fry pan. When the onions were transparent and just showing signs of browning we added the venison chops. The chops were only about ½ - inch thick and about 3 - inch diameter so not very big. We continued cooking until the onions caramelized and the chops were caramelizing. The result was scrumptious tasting, tender venison loin chops that were perfect comfort food for a cold winter's meal!

Friday, January 08, 2010

White Castle

If you have been following this blog you will know that we are not huge consumers of fast food. In fact we seldom have fast food which is fine with me. We were out on Boxing Day to finish up a bit of shopping for our Christmas celebration on the 28th. Boxing Day is a statutory Canadian holiday with some stores holding huge sales. We decided to avoid any shopping crowds so headed to the US. On the way home we picked up a bit of take-out food.

White Castle crave case and burgersCrave Case™

White Castle® is a take-out burger chain that specializes in the cutest little burgers you have ever seen. I'm not sure what it is about these burgers that are affectionately called Slyders™ but you either love them or hate them. There's no in between. Those who love them are called cravers and their purchase of choice is the Crave Case™. This is a case of 30 burgers with or without cheese or pickle. A sack of 10 burgers is available or you can buy less but this is one time to buy more!

The exterior of the White Castle® buildings is designed to look like a miniature white castle with blue trim. Food can be ordered through their indoor take-out counter or their drive-through. The burgers themselves are unique for two reasons. First they are miniature burgers and second the burger patties are steamed on a bed of onions yet they are never flipped in a process called steam-grilling. White Castle® first opened in Wichita, KS in 1921 as the first American burger chain. They did not use frozen patties until 1931. The all beef patties are square with a signature 5 holes similar to the 5 face on a die. The chopped onions are placed on a hot griddle then the patties placed on top of the onions followed by the bottom buns. When cooked the burger and onion is slid onto the top bun. A signature pickle slice is added for those wanting pickles and cheese is an option. The miniature burgers. Each burger is about 2½ x 2½ - inch square and about 1½ - inch high. They are the perfect size for toddlers but count on a lot more for adults.

White Castle cheeseburgersWhite Castle® Cheeseburgers

These burgers are so well loved by Cravers that cases of them are taken home then frozen and reheated as the crave hits. White Castle® restaurants are located in Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. They are so popular some of the grocery stores in these states sell frozen White Castle® burgers in the frozen food section with or without cheese but no pickle. Pictured are two Slyders™ from the Crave Case™reheated and ready to enjoy.

Cravers living where they don't sell Slyders™ have been known to even fly in a case or two of Slyders™. Recently there have been copycat recipes online to make these little beauties at home. I checked out a couple that use fresh onions but White Castle® uses rehydrated onions. At any rate that shows how far Cravers will go to fulfill their craving. I may even try making Slyders™ at home just to see how close I can come to the original. These would be great for Superbowl Sunday entertaining!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Kitchen Quick Tips - Cutting Cookies

kitchen quick tips
When cutting cooking roll out the dough directly on the cookie sheet. Cut the cookies then remove the excess from around the cut cookies for perfectly shaped cookies. If adding sprinkles or sugar, place the cookie cutter back onto the cut cookie then sprinkle and lightly press. Remove the frame and your cookies are now perfect for baking.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Sweet Potato Fries

I'm a firm believer that if you can buy a food item pre-made chances are very good you can make it yourself. Oh, there are exceptions to this but for the most part it rings true. Over the holiday season I noticed a certain food company advertising their frozen sweet potato fries. Well this was just something I had to try, not their product but a homemade version of it. We don't buy frozen French fries as it is preferring fresh cut to frozen so I picked up a couple of sweet potatoes for this appetizer.

sweet potato friesSweet Potato Fries

Sweet potatoes are a deep orange fleshed vegetable that actually differs from Yams of which they are often confused with. Yams are of African origin with a dark skin, lighter flesh and somewhat smaller than sweet potatoes sold in North America. While the two species are not related the terms sweet potatoes and yams are used interchangeably in North America even though they are sweet potatoes not true yams.

The sweet potato fries served with pure maple syrup were quite delightful! They made a great appetizer. Deep frying does concentrate the sugar content in the sweet potatoes which plays off nicely with the crispy, caramelized skin. Pure maple syrup was the perfect dip to accompany the sweet potato fries.

Method: Wash and cut the sweet potato fries using a French fry cutter. Deep fried the fries at 180ºC/350ºF until golden brown. Remove from deep fryer. Drain then serve with a dipping bowl of pure maple syrup.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A Look Back At Cooking in 2009

My gosh, looking back at the cooking done in our kitchen in 2009 it is difficult to say where the focus was. Home food preservation was definitely one of the priorities with canning coming out in the lead. There were a lot of interesting foods coming out of the kitchen as well. Not so surprisingly more comfort foods and soups were made somewhat reflective of a year filled with not the best weather and a slower economy. It did become the year of the mixes and I even shared a neat way using a mason jar with your blender when making homemade mixes, sauces and dips. Over all pork was the central meat of the year thanks to the H1N1 misinformation resulting in pork dropping to rock bottom prices. However this year we did a lot more experimenting with wild game such as venison, goose and moose. It also became a year for experimenting with making gourmet tea and coffee drinks at home. One of the most interesting things we did as a couple in the kitchen was hold a contest called He Said/She Said during the month of October. It was a lot of fun!

The biggest change in our kitchen in 2009 was the return of my beloved garden specifically the herb bed. While we only put in two beds rather late along with our container garden is was wonderful being able to go out and pick an abundance of fresh produce minutes before serving. I'm so looking forward to the changes that will come with the garden expansioun this year that will see the growing space more than double!

The second biggest change in our kitchen was my downdraft system was finally hooked up. This is a necessary component to use the indoor grill cartridge on my Jenn-Air® range. We moved here in June of 2007 but plumbing issues quickly overtook our lives. I kid you not after dealing with over 3-inches of water in our house several times, major plumbing reconstuction including digging up lawns to run new lines and using a porta-johnny for a week I hope you understand when I say I really don't want to see my plumber anytime soon! Oh and the plumbing issues were not quick or cheap to fix either but they were quite disruptive. So the downdraft system kept getting pushed back mainly because we had to drill through an 18-inch concrete wall. Since we grill outside year round it just ended up not being a high priority.

During 2009 we continued on our eco-friendly kitchen trend removing as much plasticware and disposable wraps from the kitchen as possible. At the end of 2009 we are about 85% plastic free when it comes to food storage containers. moved away entirely from buying any pre-ground meats other than what comes from our bulk meat purchases. We also returned to making buttermilk, ricotta cheese and sour cream at home to further reduce food containers coming into the house.

Overall 2009 was a wonderful year in our kitchen but 2010 promises to be even better!

Bon Appétit!

Garden Gnome

Monday, January 04, 2010

Frugal Kitchens 101 - A Look Back at 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101

A year ago I started running the Frugal Kitchens 101 feature every Monday. When I first started writing the features I had a few doubts and but over the year they have become quite popular. I think one that thing that appeals to many about this feature is all aspects of the kitchen are covered. Over the past year I've shared my tips not only for saving on your food dollars but also on topics such as saving on energy used in your kitchen to shopping for food and anything else related to running a frugal kitchen. Kitchen equipment has even been discussed so I think it has been quite interesting with something for everyone.

Frugal Kitchens 101 will remain a feature of this blog airing every Monday for the upcoming year. I have a lot of ideas to share with you as I explore new ways to make my kitchen a bit more frugal. This year promises to be an adventure in frugal kitchens as I reach out a bit beyond the basics. This year Hydro One will have most of Ontario on Time of Use (TOU) pricing that will result in the price per kWh go from 5.6¢ to 9.2¢ during high usage hours that will directly affect the cost of meal preparation during the week. This amounts to 44% of our electric bill with the remaining 56% being service charges some of them directly affected by kWh uses. So expect throughout the year to see a bit more on saving electricity in the kitchen and perhaps an investigation into solar cooking methods.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

My Christmas Foodie Gifts

I just love gifts that say hey I understand you as a person! To me they speak volumes beyond the gift itself because someone has taken their time, trouble and money to gift me with something they know I will use and cherish. I am extremely fortunate in that the majority of the gifts I receive fall under this category. This Christmas was no different.

How to be a Better Foodie by Sudi PigottHow to be a Better Foodie

Well now I didn't know I could be a better foodie but How to be a Better Foodie (ISBN 978-1-84400-641-0) by Sudi Pigott is going to tell me how. Can you think of a better gift for a foodie? According to the title this book offers a glimpse into the rarefied world of the expert gastronome. Oh my! A quick peek through this book promises to be a good read. I'm looking forward to becoming a better foodie in 2010! I promise to share what I learn with you. Many thanks to the gift givers for this wonderful, thoughtful gift.

The Cook's Garden by Canadian GardeningThe Cook's Garden

The same gift givers also gifted me with Canadian Gardening The Cook's Garden (ISBN 1-55278-347-2). This book promises to be a wonderful gardening and cooking resource in a unique presentation! A quick peak through shows various garden fruits and vegetables arranged according to season. Each fruit or vegetable is then discussed in detail with varieties and tips on growing. Following each discussion is several recipes using that fruit or vegetable. The book is "lavisly illustrated with more than 200 colour photographs"! The photographs of fruits, vegetables and recipes are quite stunning. Expect to see more on the recipes on this blog and the gardening aspect on my gardening blog, Garden Gnome Wanderings. Again many thanks for such a wonderful and thoughful gift.

Café Italia Coffee SetCafé Italia Coffee Set

Part of the enjoyment of indulging in espresso, cappuccino, lattes and other specialty tea and coffee drinks is the specialized cups to serve them in. A couple of gift givers gifted me with this adorablecappuccino set. There are 4 porcelain cappuccino cups with saucers, 4 small porcelain spoons and a coffee canister. The cheery deep reds, black and checks fit nicely with the other red accents in my kitchen. I can't wait to enjoy a morning cup of cappuccino in these cute new demitassse cups! Thanks so much to the gift givers of this wonderful present that I will be sure to enjoy for many years to come.